Baring it all in India

Have you ever felt like your dream came true & then realized you needed a bigger dream? Exactly where I am with this, and that's what's taken me so long to blog about it. Such mixed feelings resting on a bed of eggshells. I'll keep it short and to the point, and if you feel you want more details than the contents of this blog, please feel free to contact me personally via phone or email. 

For the last twelve years I've dreamt of taking a Chavutti Thirummal class in the "motherland." The instructor I took my first Ashiatsu class with had done it, but no one else that I have personally met or heard about, in all these years, had actually gone to India. "What am I getting myself into?" crossed my mind several times during the planning of this trip, and if I'm going to 100% honest about all this, I have to share that "what have I done?" popped up several times during my stay in Varkala. 

After saving up for the flight & accommodations I had researched online, I reached out to the co-author of the book "One Rope, Two Feet & Healing Oils," and began asking questions about the classes. For any of you wanting to do the same, I encourage you to ask more questions from this point on. After a few vague answers through both email & what's app, I started feeling a little bad for even asking questions. I made the mistake of referring to the website and book, and trying to figure it out on my own. Another encouragement: simply ask if there is anything different in the information listed online. The only thing foolish about my feeling bad is that I thought I was being a pain in the butt by asking too many questions! (Really, I had asked three. 1. what to bring to class 2. Any etiquette about the area I'll be staying in 3. What currency to pay the balance off in).

From traveling to teach Ashiatsu, I knew that I needed, at the very least, an entire day and night before beginning the course. This was by far the longest flight I would take, so I decided to break up the flight, which, turns out, was equal financial cost to flying there all at once. I flew into Dublin, Ireland, rested there for two and a half days, flew to London and rested another day and a half, and then got on the plane for a final eight hours to Trivandrum (TRV/Thiruvananthapuram). From the moment I stepped into "that" section of the airport from London's Heathrow, I knew I was in for a fresh experience all the way around. 

Even the flight was different from domestic or international travel I had experienced up to that point. People talked more, got up more. The food was much better, and they offered free whiskey and vodka, as well as beer or wine - as much as you wanted - to help everyone sleep their way there. Of course the signs weren't all in English anymore, which made the airport fascinating to navigate. From the very beginning of this journey, all my senses were on high!

I was picked up at the airport & driven the hour and a half to Varkala by Rickshaw. It was the longest hour and a half ever! It felt like we were going 100 miles an hour, almost hitting everything on either side of us. We came within inches of babies, children, families on scooters, and of course, many, many stray dogs. All I could do was pray that none of the above would be stricken when our little vehicle swerved all around other vehicles. 

It was great to arrive at our accommodations. I was grateful we were unscathed and had managed to avoid impacting anything on either side of the road. I was also grateful to find my room had a toilet! I hadn't expected indoor plumbing in my room from what I had read online. I did expect that hot water could be difficult to find there, so I wasn't too disappointed not to have any, yet there were times it was a bit chilly for a cold shower.

The next day was filled with class preparation: going to town to get supplies, resting, and meeting my classmate & her seven year old daughter. I was excited to meet Pernilla, my classmate, as I had heard she was Swedish and found out she lived in Australia, so she and her daughter had a beautiful Australian accent (which of course, I imitated as often as possible, and still do)! These two beautiful humans and a sweet little puppy we found became my dear friends.

While going to town for supplies, I realized I may have misunderstood details and answers to some of my questions. I was asked if I brought "knee pads." I thought this was referring to the pads a soccer/football player may wear. They're not. What was meant was knee braces - knee support bands. So, I spent $20 on them, and we were off to the next errand. Oil.

Silly it was an expectation, but due to being in the "mother country" of all Ayurvedic treatments, I hoped we would be using healing oils such as castor and sesame, and not the cooking grade oils we have in the US. What we got was the equivalent to what you'd find in the food section of Wal-Mart, on the bottom shelves. "Ok, no biggie, I can deal with that," I thought! Until I was over-drenched from daily double oil applications & wished I had spent that $20 for bags-o-rags to wipe off in class with. There were a few more bubble bursts that followed, like the chanting, schedule, and content, but again, I stress that I really should have asked more questions. 

I was prepared for the nudity, or so thought. It is one thing to think about it, and another to do it. I was comfortable with my classmate, but very pensive with a male instructor, despite all my mental prep. I had thought of the nudity, but being positioned and spread "wider, wider!" I know now that I could have and should have asked for a loin cloth, as all treatments in India would be given normally female to female, male to male. In fact, my classmate went in search of treatments in the area and had to talk male therapists into working on her. She was mostly treated by women, but the men who did agree to it gave her a loin cloth. Whether you've ever suffered from PTSD or have the slightest effects doesn't matter. By day 4, we were both covering ourselves. This type of course may not be suitable for the average American therapist. It is emotionally and physically much more invasive than our regulations and ethical boundaries allow, and I recommend literal practice before attempting it in class. (Retrospectively, I would have practiced, but as to do what we did in India would be illegal in the US and we would lose our licenses if caught doing it).

The other biggest bubble burster was the hygiene. No way to wash the feet and keep them clean while working. I didn't realize how much this grossed me out because I'm so picky with washing and keeping my feet off the floor for my home practice and classes. It literally distracted me to grind dirt and who knows what into my classmate! I kept apologizing. My encouragement for preparing for this part of the training would be to not wash your feet, sweep up some dirt and put it on the floor from where you washed, then walk in it to "your client," and see how easy it is to massage them with dirty feet. A huge hurdle I hadn't thought about.

We ended up switching our schedule around for several reasons and started longer days than originally planned (about 3 hours of work instead of one and a half). I liked this much better, but was having difficulty asking questions or getting answers again. This also left Pernilla and I a few extra days in Varkala, which we used to immerse ourselves in cake and coffee.

All in all, I feel the need to do it again. I have been looking into other cities and options, and have found some good resources. With respect, I'm going to reserve that information for private inquiries, and leave you with a list of considerations if you're wanting to travel to India to take this class:

  • Bring a bag-o-rags to wipe off & throw away
  • Bring a towel for drying after showers
  • Bring your own knee braces/support
  • Wear clothing you can throw away after class: old shorts, sports bras, tanks/tees
  • Bring your own loin cloth
  • Bring your own slippers/shoes to try to keep your feet clean
  • Use some of those rags to bolster your knees & chin
  • Practice working on someone when your feet are dirty
  • Lie on the floor naked, feet turned out, and spread your arms & legs out (& imagine a male voice telling you to spread them more while he's standing between them)
  • Ask about the schedule & any other variances from online information
  • Wake up at 5:15 a.m. for practice (if you don't already)
  • Have nothing but fruit juice & fruit from 5:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Practice eating vegetarian meals (it's not safe/recommended to eat meats in some states of India, Kerala is one of them)

The food was amazing! The culture intriguing. The head bobble was my favorite native characteristic to witness. The best part about going (other than meeting Pernilla & Maia) was seeing and feeling that barefoot work is barefoot work no matter who does what where! That those of us who choose to replace hands with feet and massage are all cut from the same cloth. 

It's the oldest method of barefoot massage by effleurage. On the floor or on the table, it's been the Ashiatsu therapists' grandparent long before anyone put a trademark on it or logo'd it! There have been ropes, bars, poles, ceilings, chairs, and many, many years of climbing on the table to hold whatever one can and use their feet instead of hands. It was these eleven years into my Ashiatsu practice that I learned while Chavutti is what we all know about, the legendary barefoot massage we all replicate is truly influenced more by the Portuguese women that launched it. Climbing onto tables & using their feet as hands! No one in Varkala knew "chavutti thirummal," but they all knew "barefoot massage." 

Let's all take a minute to think about what that really means and stop bullying and belittling other therapists if they didn't take from the same instructor another did. Why not explore it all for yourself? All barefoot work comes from a culmination of methods practiced over centuries, just like working with hands does. Let's keep an open mind and explore the true meaning of our ethical codes as therapists. I may not be 100% confident in everything I do as therapist, but I am 100% confident that I would be wasting time trying to claim a stroke or technique rather than respect the origin of the work I do and keep evolving it. Logical, effective, beneficial. Stick to that in all your Ashiatsu & you will glide graciously, injury-free, and gain a lot of respect from your clients and colleagues, but mostly, you'll be free to believe that it ~is~ possible to replace your hands and bare your soles unlike you've ever born before!